Author Archives: mike.merchant

A day in the life of a mint

  Growing plants is so much more interesting when you get to know your garden’s wildlife. Few of us will ever take the time to spend an entire day watching all the insects, spiders, birds, and reptiles attracted to our backyard garden. But if we did, we would probably be amazed at all the critters calling our yards “home.” Fortunately for us impatient folk, retired entomologist David Cappaert has done just that. Last summer, after noticing an unusual abundance of insect life attracted to just one kind of plant… Read More →

Give the love of insects this Christmas

Parents, here’s a Christmas idea for your kids. A hand lens, an insect net, a set of pins and an insect collection box could provide a doorway to the love of nature for your child. For some kids an insect collection can be the best way to learn about insects and connect with the outdoors. Photography is also good, but collecting engages all the senses in ways that a camera cannot. Many entomologists got their start collecting insects. An insect collecting kit as a Christmas present got one… Read More →

2nd Edition of Garden Insects of North America

The Master Gardeners I have trained over the years may remember the big stacks of books I bring with me to every insect class.  I love books and use them a lot in my job. One of the most useful references I use and recommend to Extension volunteers is the Princeton University Press Garden Insects of North America.  It’s been a great resource, and a bargain to boot, since it came out in 2004. Now Garden Insects of North America has a second edition.  The original author, Whitney Cranshaw… Read More →

Devastation of Monarch butterfly habitat in 2016

For all fans of monarch butterflies, a new article in American Entomologist may be of interest.  Lincoln Brower and colleagues describe the most devastating weather event for the monarchs since studies began 24 years ago. For many years it was known that monarch butterflies migrated; but not until 1975 did scientists discover that most monarchs in the eastern half of the United States migrate to a remote mountainous site in south-central Mexico. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was designated a World Heritage Site in 2008, and is located… Read More →

Class labeled a “bug success”

By all accounts, this year’s Master Volunteer Entomology Specialist (MVES) training was a “bug success”. The 2017 class was held Sep 18-21 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Center at Dallas, and represented the 12th time we’ve offered the course since 2003. I hosted this year’s class with lots of help from colleagues. Every year’s MVES class agenda is unique. In addition to core sessions (general entomology, insect orders, integrated pest management, and insects of trees and landscapes), we heard talks on insects that eat other insects, beekeeping, native… Read More →

And now it’s mosquitoes

Hurricane Harvey continues to leave its mark on Texas. Besides the giant cleanup, hoards of mosquitoes are now descending in many areas. The pictures are impressive. Just a couple of examples are enough to make the point. The young man in the picture here was fortunate to have chosen a sturdy shirt before venturing out last weekend. The mosquitoes in this picture are probably in the genus Psorophora, (sore ROFF oh ruh) one of our largest, most painful and aggressive biters.  Psorophora mosquitoes have some impressive chops when it comes… Read More →

Fire ants make water rescue… interesting

What’s reddish-brown, rides the water like an air mattress, changes shape like an amoeba, and stings like the devil?  If you answered fire ants floating in floodwater, you’ve probably been in Texas high water before. Floods bring all sorts of wildlife into close and sometimes uncomfortable contact with people, but none perhaps so uncomfortable as fire ants. When their mounds are flooded, fires ants survive by riding air bubbles to the surface, joining feet (tarsi) with nest mates, and floating.  The ingenious behavior that allows ants to float… Read More →

A chance to fight malaria

How would you like to save a life today? It’s not as hard as you might think. In the years since Bill Gates retired his position as CEO of MicroSoft Corporation, he and his wife Melinda have devoted tremendous effort to battling malaria.  Malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit it is the single greatest killer of humans in the world, accounting for most of the 700,000+ mosquito-caused deaths annually.  But unlike many of the other major problems in the world, solutions to the malaria epidemic are available now…. Read More →

Mealybugs on hibiscus common this summer

Mealybugs are perhaps best known as pests of indoor plants. But occasionally mealybugs strike outdoors flowers and shrubs. The striped mealybug, Ferrisia virgata Cockerell, is one such pest that has been showing up in Texas gardens this summer. Mealybugs are pests that feed on plant sap.  Most are white in color, from a white wax produced by special glands on the tops and sides of their bodies. The patterns, form and length of the waxy filaments on mealybug bodies help us identify the different species of mealybugs.  The striped… Read More →

Citrus flatid planthopper

These poor insects.  Stuck with a name that sounds pretty boring–even to an entomologist. And the scientific name is little better: Metcalfa pruinosa is a type of planthopper, a relative of the aphids, scales, whiteflies, and leafhoppers.  It belongs to the family Flatidae, hence the name flatid.  And it is found on citrus, but also lots of other plants. For some reason, these little insects seem to be pretty abundant this year, so you may be more likely to see them in your garden.  They may show up on… Read More →